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Chinese capsule returns to Earth with 1st samples of moon rock in decades – CBC.ca

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A Chinese lunar capsule returned to Earth with the first fresh samples of rock and debris from the moon in more than 40 years.

The capsule of the Chang’e 5 probe landed in the Siziwang district of the Inner Mongolia region, state media reported shortly after 2 a.m. local time Thursday (1 p.m. ET).

The capsule separated from its orbiter module and performed a bounce off the Earth’s atmosphere to reduce its speed before passing through and floating to the ground on parachutes.

Two of the Chang’e 5’s four modules set down on the moon on Dec. 1 and collected about two kilograms of samples by scooping them from the surface and by drilling two metres into the moon’s crust.

The samples were deposited in a sealed container that was carried back to the return module by an ascent vehicle.

Chang’e 5 gathers samples on the moon surface on Dec. 2. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP)

The successful mission was the latest breakthrough for China’s increasingly ambitious space program that includes a robotic mission to Mars and plans for a permanent orbiting space station.

Recovery crews had prepared helicopters and off-road vehicles to home in on signals emitted by the lunar spacecraft to locate it in the darkness shrouding the vast snow-covered region in China’s far north, long used as a landing site for China’s Shenzhou crewed spaceships.

The spacecraft’s return marked the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 robot probe in 1976.

Those rocks and debris are thought to be billions of years younger than those obtained by the U.S. and former Soviet Union, offering new insights into the history of the moon and other bodies in the solar system.

A Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang’e 5 lunar mission lifts off at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, China, on Nov. 24. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

They come from a part of the moon known as the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, near a site called the Mons Rumker that was believed to have been volcanic in ancient times.

As with the 382 kilograms of lunar samples brought back by U.S. astronauts from 1969 to 1972, they will be analyzed for age and composition and likely shared with other countries.

Chang’e 5 blasted off from a launch base in China’s southern island province of Hainan on Nov. 23.

China’s lunar, Mars ambitions

Flying a Chinese flag, the moon lander stopped functioning soon after it was used as a launching pad for the ascender, which was ejected from the orbiter after transferring the samples and came to rest on the moon’s surface.

It marked China’s third successful lunar landing but the only one to lift off again from the moon.

The spacecraft’s predecessor, Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the moon’s little-explored far side and continues to send back data on conditions that could affect a future extended stay by humans on the moon.

A teacher shows a model of a rocket to children during an aerospace education lesson at a school in Yunyang county in southwestern China’s Chongqing province on Wednesday. (AFP via Getty Images)

The moon has been a particular focus of the Chinese space program, which has said it plans to land humans there and possibly construct a permanent base. No timeline or other details have been announced.

China also has joined the effort to explore Mars. In July, it launched the Tianwen 1 probe, which carried a lander and a robot rover to search for water.

China’s space program has proceeded more cautiously than the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States.

The latest flight included collaboration with the European Space Agency, which helped monitor the mission.

Amid concerns over the Chinese space program’s secrecy and close military connections, the U.S. forbids co-operation between NASA and the China National Space Administration unless Congress gives its approval.

That has prevented China from taking part in the International Space Station, something it has sought to compensate for with the launching of an experimental space station and plans to complete a permanent orbiting outpost within the next two years.

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First ever baby T-rex fossils found in Alberta | News – Daily Hive

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For the first time ever, the fossils of a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex have been discovered.

Researchers were able to find a small toe claw in Morrin, Alberta, and a jawbone in Montana.

The findings were published in a study, led by Greg Funston, on Monday, January 25, in the Canadian Journal of Earth and Sciences.

When the team first began their dig, it wasn’t even the T. Rex they were searching for.

“Our research in Morrin, Alberta, was looking for troodontid (raptor dinosaurs) material, and investigating potential reasons for why a couple [of] sites had an abundance of their teeth while being rare in other locations,” Mark Powers, a University of Alberta Ph.D. student, and the second author on the study told Daily Hive. “It wasn’t even on our radar,” he added.

During their dig, they discovered the small claw and began the careful process of collecting it from the ground.

“It involved taking bags of sediment from the site and then breaking it down with water while sifting through the material. Once it was collected, it became a test of our hypothesis that it was a tyrannosaur,” said Powers.

“To do this, we looked at as many fossils of animals that existed in the same rocks and time, to see if we could falsify our diagnosis. This process is important in order to give as accurate an identification as possible. It is also one of the most fun processes! You basically get to be a detective examining all the clues you have available,” Powers added.

Babrex silhouette to scale/Mark Powers

There have been thousands of isolated T-Rex bones found, but never at an embryonic stage. There are many factors why finding these fossils at such a young age is incredibly rare.

“Tyrannosaurs grew rapidly, so even at 3 years of age, they were already wolf-sized or bigger,” said Powers. “Small animals are thought to break apart or become lost or destroyed before they can preserve. This makes it challenging to find specimens that are either embryonic or freshly hatched. The delicate skeletons were likely broken up by running water or scavenging from predators before they settled in a position where they could fossilize.”

While there are already dozens of Tyrannosaur skeletons, finding the fossils of one so young will provide more understanding of the carnivorous dinosaur.

“This gives us a starting point for the ontogeny (growth) of tyrannosaurs. It will allow for more comprehensive studies of their growth and provide a slough of additional avenues of research,” said Powers.

The baby rex won’t have a name, but could possibly be given one once the specimen is on display. Unofficially, Mark Powers has already given the little dinosaur a placeholder name.

“As of right now, I would give it the title of Tiny Tyrannical Tyke. Alliterative titles are always catchy,” said Powers.

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Babies from famed carnivorous dinosaur group were 'born ready' to hunt – Toronto Sun

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Article content continued

Both are slightly smaller cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex. The largest-known tyrannosaurs topped 40 feet (12 metres) long and 8 tons in weight.

An illustration shows the silhouettes of two baby tyrannosaurs from the Cretaceous Period of North America based on partial fossils unearthed in the U.S. state of Montana and Alberta, with the silhouettes of University of Edinburgh scientist Greg Funston and an adult Albertosaurus shown to provide a size comparison. Photo by Greg Funston/University of Edinburgh /Handout via REUTERS

The jaw possesses distinctive tyrannosaur traits, including a deep groove inside and a prominent chin.

University of Edinburgh paleontologist Greg Funston, lead author of the research published in the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, said the scientists were amazed at how similar the embryonic bones were to older juvenile and adult tyrannosaurs and noted that the jaws boasted functional teeth.

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“So although we can’t get a complete picture, what we can see looks very similar to the adults,” Funston said.

It appears that tyrannosaurs, Funston added, were “born ready to hunt, already possessing some of the key adaptations that gave tyrannosaurs their powerful bites. So it’s likely that they were capable of hunting fairly quickly after birth, but we need more fossils to tell exactly how fast that was.”

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In Iceland, Testing the Drones That Could Be the Future of Mars Exploration – Atlas Obscura

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On February 18, 2021, if all goes to plan, NASA’s Perseverance rover will land on Mars. While it’s poking around, looking for signs of past habitability, Ingenuity—a tiny, experimental solar-powered helicopter hitching a ride on its underside—will try to demonstrate the possibility of flight on another world for the very first time. We may be looking at the future of exploration on the Red Planet.

Back here on Earth, others are already looking beyond Ingenuity. A next-generation NASA-funded Mars mission concept, the Rover-Aerial Vehicle Exploration Network or RAVEN, is about to be put through its paces in a gauntlet like no other. The project will pair an autonomous rover with specialized drones and be sent across a 32-square-mile lava field in Iceland as a test run for a future on Mars.

Interplanetary rovers are technological marvels, but they’re stuck to the ground. Drones, in one form or another, are the next evolutionary step, and they will be used for more than just reconnaissance. With scoops and drills, eventually they will “go somewhere the rover can’t go, and bring something back,” says Christopher Hamilton, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and lead researcher on RAVEN.

Hamilton launching a drone in Iceland.
Hamilton launching a drone in Iceland. Courtesy Christopher Hamilton/The University of Arizona

There’s no mistaking the impact drones are having on science right now. During the prolific eruption of Hawai‘i’s Kīlauea volcano in 2018, the government authorized the largest peaceful deployment of drones in American history. Spearheaded by longtime drone advocate Angie Diefenbach, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory, they were used to film lava fountains up close, track the slithering progression of molten rock, and even help people escape their homes in the dead of night.

Today, the U.S. Geological Survey has a dedicated drone program, catching up with universities across the world that are using them to reach inaccessible or dangerous places for scientific research. “It’s the age of the drones,” says Diefenbach. “We’re going to do so many cool things.”

Not long ago, the most advanced drones “were all in the hands of the military,” says Gordon Osinski, a planetary scientist at the University of Western Ontario and RAVEN team member. Now you can buy pretty capable ones online or at your local computer store. Bit by bit, he says, drones “are changing how we do fieldwork on Earth. And I think it’s definitely going to do the same for other planets.”

Drones will be able to provide powerful, unprecedented views of Martian landscapes, just as they do in Iceland.
Drones will be able to provide powerful, unprecedented views of Martian landscapes, just as they do in Iceland. Courtesy Christopher Hamilton/The University of Arizona

Scientists are getting very good at piloting drones down here, but flying on Mars is going to be tougher. The air density is a fraction of Earth’s, so any mechanical aviators will need to push a lot more of it to get any elevation—hence Ingenuity’s test run. While engineers grappled with this challenge at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory back in 2014, the Bárðarbunga volcanic system in Iceland erupted. Between August 2014 and February 2015, it spilled enough lava to easily smother Manhattan, making it Iceland’s largest eruption in 230 years.

The lava flow, as it cooked ice and water trapped below, developed a hydrothermal system with hot springs that became home to many happy microbes. By 2021, things had cooled, but vestiges of those bastions of life still exist, creating an environment similar to what researchers hope to be able to identify on Mars. To the tune of $3.1 million, NASA agreed with Hamilton that it would be a great place to test the next generation of automated Mars explorers, and RAVEN was born.

There are two components to RAVEN. The first is the rover. Courtesy of the Canadian Space Agency, it’s comparable to Curiosity in capability and design. It can be remotely operated by a human, (on Mars there would be several minutes of delay between commands and action) but it’s also able to navigate the land all on its own.

Christopher Hamilton with the RAVEN rover.
Christopher Hamilton with the RAVEN rover. Courtesy Christopher Hamilton/The University of Arizona

The real innovation of the project will be in its cargo. The drone is a carbon fiber hexacopter, capable of flying for around 35 minutes and up to a distance of three miles, carrying about 20 pounds of scientific equipment. It will act as the more technologically capable rover’s field assistant.

A camera will be one key instrument, but for more than just aerial photographs. It can take several different photographs of the same surface feature, and then send them to the rover, where heftier processors will make true 3D maps of terrain—“a full virtual rendering of the environment around the drone and rover,” says Hamilton. These, in turn, will help it navigate precisely and speedily around the area.

The drone will also use a visible to near-infrared spectrometer, which looks at radiation coming off the ground to identify any interesting minerals or substances. But the drone has another killer app.

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NASA is laser-focused on bringing pristine Mars rocks back to Earth. Perseverance will dig up and cache 43 pen-sized rock samples that, through a series of upcoming NASA and European Space Agency missions, will be brought to Earth by 2031. While this robotic Rube Goldberg machine plays out, RAVEN will be testing a new way to grab samples in Iceland.

“My favorite part of RAVEN is the Claw,” says Hamilton. This refers to a scoop, or a series of scoop designs, that will be attached to the drone. Rocks of interest will be picked up and flown back to the rover, where the rover’s chemical-interrogating technology will see if the rock is fascinating enough to go visit the site where it came from, either to see the original context or get a bigger sample.

Scientists are looking to use that same concept for their Earthbound drones too. “The most exciting bit was to see the Claw attached to it, because that’s exactly where I’d like to go in the next year, for the [U.S. Geological Survey] at least,” says Diefenbach, for applications here. “That made me pretty excited.”

The team’s engineering partner, Honeybee Robotics, is coming up with drill designs, too, to pull out small cylindrical cores or grind rock into powder that can be vacuumed up and flown to the rover.

Steam blowing off Iceland's Holuhraun lava field.
Steam blowing off Iceland’s Holuhraun lava field. Courtesy Christopher Hamilton/The University of Arizona

This year, RAVEN’s hardware is being manufactured and software is being coded while its hardware is manufactured. The games will begin in summer 2022, when the rover and drones arrive at Bárðarbunga volcano’s Holuhraun Lava Field.

The actual first test of the equipment reads like the instructions of a practical final exam. An operations team unfamiliar with the site, which will include students, will use satellite imagery to determine where best to “land” the rover and drones. They will issue commands to both vehicles and, within a set amount of time measured in Mars-days, then characterize the environment’s geology and identify potentially habitable or once-habitable pockets of it. In addition to testing RAVEN’s technology, the test will determine if a team new to the site will be able to identify the most astrobiologically areas to study—just as a future rover-drone Mars mission will have to. “I can’t participate in the science planning for our team, because I have the answer key,” Hamilton says, since he already knows the site, and the areas with the best potential for exploration. After the trial ends, and the team compares notes, they’ll run it back in summer 2023.

Hamilton can picture the time where RAVEN, or something like it, is deployed on Mars for real. By that stage, he says, “there is the possibility that the rover would be an astronaut.” Imagine that, not science fiction but real: spacefaring scientists, flying drones over Martian volcanoes, searching for alien biosignatures in the hazy light of the distant sun, the Earth (and Iceland’s lava fields) a bluish dot in the sky.

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